Do the gods drive current affairs?

To judge from current events in the Middle East, the god of Israel appears to be battling the god of the Palestinians, even though they both seem to be the same god. But are they guiding events? And if not, why not? The Greek historian Thucydides (d. c. 400 bc) had no truck with the idea. In his account of the long war between the two most powerful Greek city states of their time – democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta (431-404 bc), each with their respective allies – Thucydides was the first historian we know of to discount divine intervention in human affairs. Naturally he reported on the widespread phenomenon of

The Great God Pan is all things to all men

Pan’s name is thought to derive from ‘paean’, the ancient Greek verb meaning ‘to pasture’. His half-man, half-goat form reflected his role in protecting flocks of goats and those who herded them among the wild hills of Arcadia. Panic was his superpower, freaking out mortals in the woods with distorted sounds, even neutralising hostile armies. This might seem like an adequate portfolio of godly aspects, but, as Paul Robichaud demonstrates in Pan: The Great God’s Modern Return, it didn’t take long for things to get more complicated. The Homeric ‘Hymn to Pan’ had a slightly different story, which was that the strange goat-child, rejected by its earthly nurse, got taken

The symbolism of Orion, the hunter of the heavens

What happened in the rites of Eleusis is a mystery. So are all the unwritten parts of human history. Our pre-literate past is a history without a clear story: excavated stones and waste pits, fragments of myth and philological association. The early literate past is little clearer. The later Bronze Age of the Myceneans, the Minoans and Moses is a speculative assembly. Later, the surfaces of the Athens of Plato and Pericles are solid in marble and rational in thought, but the myths remain strange and violent memories, subject to an alien, evasive logic we cannot quite follow. ‘These Greeks,’ Hugo von Hofmannsthal mused as he climbed up to the